Having a good website is becoming essential for utilities, especially in the energy sector. This involves a) letting the public have access to tools which up to now have only been available to professionals and b) using social applications.

What do utilities customers expect from a website? Direct links from the site’s home page to social networks, access to administrative applications, plus content compatibility with mobile devices. This is what E-source, an organisation which helps businesses improve their energy-related decisions, reports in its annual ranking of best energy sector utility company websites in North America. The big winner this year is Georgia Power, which has jumped 27 places up the list in two years. After holding meetings with customer focus groups and other consultations, Georgia Power undertook a revamp of the site, redesigning the home page and adding functionalities, including a set of interactive online tools, such as an audit tool which enables customers to calculate their energy consumption online, either by themselves or with the help of a technician, so that they can choose the energy package that is most appropriate for them.   

Bringing professionals’ tools to the public

According to Sami Jaber, founder of DNG Consulting, this is the way to go for utilities: “Giving customers access to tools hitherto reserved for professionals is essential for these companies”,he explained to L'Atelier. “Whether it’s to work out your CO2emissions or your water and electricity consumption, to calculate the amount of your energy bills or fill in your tax declaration, all these services are now available online because of strong Internet user demand.”E source also underlines that it’s vital for these companies to ensure their sites are compatible with mobile formats: “For outage or emergency reporting, a user would be far more likely to use his /her mobile phone to notify the utility company”.

More efficient processes

“Clearly, it's becoming critical to consider the online user experience from both the mobile and traditional desktop perspective,” says Kim Burke, Associate Research Director at E Source. The spread of these tools also has financial logic, leading to cost reduction, faster transactions,and enabling staff to be redeployed to more essential tasks. “If you empower your users to fill in forms online, for example, you no longer have to get your staff to type in data, you lower the error rate and you speed up the process, and this increases customer satisfaction,” explains Sami Jaber.The next step should be the creation of customer communities on the websites so that they can compare experiences, says the DNG Consulting founder.